As has become the NFL’s annual tradition, the New York Giants are set to open the regular season by traveling to play the Dallas Cowboys.
Once again, we start to really dive into the game-day match-ups by looking at what might happen when each team possesses the ball. Today, we’ll start with what might happen when the Giants’ offense is on the field.
In 2016 that largely meant waiting for Odell Beckham Jr. to make another highlight-reel worthy play while looking forward to the defense being on the field again. If things are going to be different in 2017, we will (hopefully) get our first indications on Sunday night.
By The Numbers
Giants’ Offense (2016)
Rushing Yards - 88.2 yards per game, 3.5 YPC (29th)
Passing Yards - 242.4 yards per game (17th)
Total Yards - 330.7 yards per game (25th)
Points - 19.4 points per game (25th)
Cowboys’ Defense (2016)
Rushing Yards - 83.5 (1st)
Passing Yards - 260.4 (26th)
Total Yards - 343.9 (19th)
Points - 19.1 (5th)
We’re starting with the 2016 numbers because those are the only baselines we have right now. Last year the Giants’ offense was, quite simply, not good enough. By the end of the season they were absolutely dependent on Beckham making one spectacular play to put them up, then relying on their lock-down scoring defense to hold on to the lead.
The Cowboys’ defense out-played their talent level, and were greatly helped by an efficient offense. Because they dominated the time of possession and scored points doing so, their offense put more pressure on opposing offenses to throw the ball. So while Dallas had the best rushing defense in terms of yards per game, they also faced the fewest rushing attempts in the league.
Will The Star Be On Stage?
Perhaps the biggest question entering this game is whether or not Beckham will play. Beckham has been working his way back from an ankle sprain suffered in the second preseason game.
The Giants got some good news Wednesday when Beckham warmed up with the team before returning to the sideline.
Odell Beckham on the practice field Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/3ap5tTSKmI— Big Blue View (@bigblueview) September 6, 2017
It’s encouraging to see Beckham on the field, and without his ankle taped or braced. It still remains to be seen whether or not Beckham plays in the first game. While it is an undoubtedly important divisional game, coach Ben McAdoo might not want to risk the other 15 (regular season) games by rushing Beckham back to the field.
Whether or not he is on the field will largely determine what the Giants’ offense look like.
How Will The Rookies Fare?
The Giants’ first-round pick, Evan Engram, is set to play a vital role in the Giants’ revamped offense.
Arguably the biggest problem with the Giants’ woeful 2016 offense was how they were stymied by a relatively simple two-deep safety coverage shell. The look forced the Giants’ receivers to play in phone booths and severely limit opportunities for yards after the catch. Making matters worse, the Giants largely lacked the weapons to really attack the weaknesses of Cover-2 looks, namely the voids between the linebackers and safeties.
In addition to being a versatile (and extraordinarily athletic) match-up nightmare in man coverage, Engram has a special knack for attacking seam routes as well as finding and exploiting voids in zone coverage.
The Giants also made the surprising move of keeping undrafted rookie fullback Shane Smith. Earlier in the week we took a look at what Smith might bring to the offense. The Giants struggled mightily to run the ball in 2016 (and 2015, and 2014...), and Smith could play a big role in helping to spark the ground game.
These two rookies could play a big role in how the Giants’ offense fares on Sunday night, especially if Beckham is inactive.
What Will The Offense Look Like?
Will the offensive line hold up?
This is the question that everyone is asking with regards to the Giants. Offensive tackle Bobby Hart has quietly been one of the pleasant surprises of the preseason, not giving up a sack or a hurry.
Ereck Flowers has shown improvement as well, most importantly in his reliance on his technique. He still has his ugly reps and relapses, but the improvement is evident.
The questions have, surprisingly, shifted inward, particularly to the right guard slot. The interior of the offensive line became a significant issue through the first two preseason games, hindering the offense’s ability to function.
In the third game the Giants gave John Jerry, Brett Jones, and D.J. Fluker chances with the starting offense. While none were fantastic, Jones and Fluker appeared to outplay Jerry. Jerry, however, remains listed as the starting right guard. We have to believe that he has a short leash.
Other than the presence of Beckham, how well the offensive line plays will determine how the offense as a whole plays.
Will we see formation variation?
The other major question facing the Giants’ offense is what they will look like from a schematic view.
In 2016, they fielded three (small) wide receivers on more than 90 percent of their plays, significantly limiting their offensive options and simplifying the defense’s game-planning.
Over the off-season the Giants added big wide receiver Brandon Marshall as well as tight ends Rhett Ellison and Engram in an effort to diversify their offensive attack.
Early indications from preseason, when teams tend to run relatively vanilla versions of their schemes, are that they have increased the variety in the offensive formation.
#Giants personnel usage this preseason (202 snaps through 3 weeks):— Ryan Smith (@PFF_Smith) August 31, 2017
11 - 65%
12 - 17%
21 - 11%
22 - 6%
1 snap in 23
We will have to see if this holds true for regular season games, but the increased diversity in preseason is an encouraging sign. It’s even possible that with Beckham’s ankle, they could move even further away from an 11-personnel package.